Steve Jobs’ Birth Father and Nature vs. Nurture

My friend Fredric Alan Maxwell’s new unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs will be released shortly. I find Jobs fascinating for a number of reasons – his passion, his creativity, the role psychedelics played in his intellectual formation, his iconic status, and his branding acumen. I’m moving more toward Apple products, yet also find Apple to be, basically, a corporate cult. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re really good at design, marketing and branding (internally and externally.)

Fredric is a PopTech alum who authored Bad Boy Ballmer and (no, this is not a nonsequitur) was tailed by the Secret Service for allegedly threatening the President in a bar. The President was not in the bar at the time. [See New York Times, “Spooked”, 4/27/03]. It now seems clear that someone who was out to get him (while he was out digging up dish on Ballmer) phoned in the “tip.”

Fredric sent me an excerpt from his new book, in which he discusses Jobs’ life, and reveals the identity of Jobs’ biological father:

“My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption,” said Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, in his commencement address at Stanford University in June. “She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: ‘We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?’ They said: ‘Of course.’ My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.”

While this anecdote made a compelling opening for Jobs’ bravura speech to a football stadium full of new college graduates and their parents, the details that Jobs left out are even more intriguing. The missing piece is the identity of his biological father, whose strange story, uncovered here for the first time, provides fresh insight into the sources of character that have made Steve Jobs one of the greatest icons of American business.

The family’s saga is also a revealing case study in the classic debate of nature vs. nurture. Jobs’ personality — his intelligence, creativity, ambitiousness, charm, egomania, iconoclasm, and risk-taking — seems drawn almost entirely from those of his birth parents, whom he never knew growing up, rather than the adoptive parents who raised him. And it turns out that Jobs, arguably the most fascinating figure in both Silicon Valley and Hollywood, can make yet another claim to exceptionalism: he is the most prominent living Arab-American. His biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali, immigrated from his native Syria at the age of 21 in 1952.

His identity was outed, albeit obscurely, by Jobs’ sister, Mona Simpson, the critically-acclaimed, best-selling novelist. She was born two and a half years after Jobs to the same parents, who chose to keep and raise their second child.

Jobs is very different from his adoptive parents, but apparently much more similar to his birth parents. In exploring this, Fredric touches on an issue that fascinates me – that of nature vs. nurture. I’m fascinated by this topic not because I’m adopted – I’m not – but because I’ve somehow grown up with a markedly different worldview and personality than my parents or my brother. I am a first-born also. My father was not around at all beyond my very early years (and not much during the first few), so that by itself makes for an interesting comparison. I certainly see some similarities between my mom, brother and I (especially mom), but the differences are much more apparent.

8 thoughts on “Steve Jobs’ Birth Father and Nature vs. Nurture”

  1. The Nature vs. Nature debate has always intrigued me — particularily because I don’t think it’s a debate that will ever be fully resolved.

    Consider some of the bizarre results of studies involving identical twins separated at birth and raised by different adoptive families, then later reunited as adults.

    Case in point — James Springer and James Lewis, who shared the following traits:

    * Both had married twice. Their first wife was named Linda and their second wife was named Betty.
    * both named their sons – James Allen.
    * both enrolled as Police Officers at the same time.
    * both named their dogs “Troy.”
    * both vacationed each year on the same stretch of beach in Florida.
    * both drank the same brand of beer and smoked the same brand of cigarettes.
    * both had the same hobby, which was woodworking.

    Then you look at other sets of identical twins, raised by their biological parents in the same home, and you see startling differences. There are at least two cases of identical twins where one twin is happy with the biological sex but the other feels that he/she was meant to be the opposite sex and then goes through a sex change.

    What’s so puzzling is that trivial things like naming seem to be genetically passed on, whereas something as integral as gender orientation appears to be flexible.

  2. The Nature vs. Nature debate has always intrigued me — particularily because I don’t think it’s a debate that will ever be fully resolved.

    Consider some of the bizarre results of studies involving identical twins separated at birth and raised by different adoptive families, then later reunited as adults.

    Case in point — James Springer and James Lewis, who shared the following traits:

    * Both had married twice. Their first wife was named Linda and their second wife was named Betty.
    * both named their sons – James Allen.
    * both enrolled as Police Officers at the same time.
    * both named their dogs “Troy.”
    * both vacationed each year on the same stretch of beach in Florida.
    * both drank the same brand of beer and smoked the same brand of cigarettes.
    * both had the same hobby, which was woodworking.

    Then you look at other sets of identical twins, raised by their biological parents in the same home, and you see startling differences. There are at least two cases of identical twins where one twin is happy with the biological sex but the other feels that he/she was meant to be the opposite sex and then goes through a sex change.

    What’s so puzzling is that trivial things like naming seem to be genetically passed on, whereas something as integral as gender orientation appears to be flexible.

  3. You might wanna read Born To Rebel by, I think Frank Sulloway. He details that the main determinate of character is … birth order.

  4. You might wanna read Born To Rebel by, I think Frank Sulloway. He details that the main determinate of character is … birth order.

  5. Dude,
    I am adopted. Found my birthparents. Basically, everyone, I mean EVERYONE is in denial about how powerful genetics are, especially to your personality. We are no different than animals that are bred for characteristics. People need to get over it.

    Have you considered you might have the majority of your expressed genes from an uncle or a grandparent? It is more common than you think. People who get lost on the road of “but I’m not like my parents” fail to consider this.

  6. Dude,
    I am adopted. Found my birthparents. Basically, everyone, I mean EVERYONE is in denial about how powerful genetics are, especially to your personality. We are no different than animals that are bred for characteristics. People need to get over it.

    Have you considered you might have the majority of your expressed genes from an uncle or a grandparent? It is more common than you think. People who get lost on the road of “but I’m not like my parents” fail to consider this.

  7. If you think about it, Steve Jobs story isn’t that different from Obama’s life story. Obama has successful siblings who grew up in priviledged homes just as he did and not so successful ones who grew up in poverty.

    Genetics is part of it, but trying to figure out how much of it contributes to life successes is very difficult, if not impossible. Had Jobs grew up in a poor family his path in life would have been completely different. When you look at successful Silicon Valley millioniares they tend to cluster around certain age groups and come from upper-middle class homes where they were afforded the priviledge of education and access to technologies.

    Charles Manson, a career criminal, has a son who has a clean record and is remarkably well-adjusted. He may have the potential for criminality, but his upbringing and experiences prevented it from happening.

    A child may be born that has the “genetics” to be a great violinist, but if he never comes into contact with a violin, he will never fulfill his gift.

  8. Disagree, disagree.

    Where you end up is a complex mixture of nature vs. nuture. True Steve Jobs had some very real inherited traits from his biological parents but his “adoptive parents” give him the freedom to explore his interests and electronics.

    His biological parents wanted him to be adopted by college graduates with the stiputlation that he went to college. He could have grown up in a restrictive academic household that wouldn’t understand his entrepeneurial spriit. Case in point, his sister grew up with his biological parents and she’s a writer. Steve Jobs grew up with adoptive parents and became a maverick and entrepeneur. Those are two very different types of professions.

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